How to Photoshop Heads

How to swap heads in photoshop

Today I'll be showing you how to replace one person's head with another's in Photoshop. I've been using the masking method to create quite decent results lately. It's a quick, easy and safe way to edit - and it's a method which is useable in Photoshop, or it's free brothers GIMP and Pixlr. Here is an example of the type of thing we're hoping to achieve: here I am as WWE wrestler, John Cena

It's not a difficult task and most of the hard work is in the pre-planning. So lets get started with that. 

For this tutorial, I decided to put together the first two celebrities I saw in my Facebook stream. Thankfully, it threw at me a hilarious duo: The Queen of England, and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. 

This is arguably the important part of the whole process. You'll want images that:
- Are lit similarly (i.e, light coming from the same direction in each photo)
- Have the models' faces pointing in the same direction (i.e. both facing front, or both facing to the left etc.)
- Are of good quality. There's no point in working with tiny, poor quality images, it will only result in an awful end result. 

Here are the images I chose.

As you can see they're large files, where the light is coming from the same direction (camera left) and both have their head pointed towards camera. Perfect images to start with. 


Open both images in your image editor, be that Photoshop, Pixlr or Gimp. There are two images - one who will be 'the head' and the other 'the body'. I want to put The Rock's head on the Queen's body, so we have to start with The Rock. 

There are lots of ways to take a select piece of an image, I'll be using the 'quick select' tool. Press W to choose the 'quick selection' tool and click until you have a nice selection around the head like so:

Running ants

Copy this (Ctrl + C) and open the picture of the body that you'll be working on. Paste it onto the new image (Ctrl + V). It should just sit in the middle of the image like this:


It's looking good already! But to make sure it's spot on, you'll need to reduce the opacity of your head. To do this go to the layers menu, select the layer with the Rock's head and bring the slider down from 100% to under 50% or so. I've highlighted it in pink for you here, in case you're stuck.

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 20.44.58.png

Now here comes the bit where your planning pays off. You'll want to drag the image so that the eyes align. Make sure the head layer is still under 50% opacity for this stage. With the head layer selected, click 'V' to drag the head over to the right place. If it's too big or too small, select free transform (cmd + t) and make the head the appropriate size. When properly aligned, you should get something like this:

Freaky. I didn't realise before this, but the Queen and the Rock have identical eyes. Anyway, we'll move on from that bombshell revelation. Next step: Masking the layer.

For ages, masks baffled me. Truth be told they're really, really easy to use. First up, you'll need to make your face layer into a mask. There's a few ways to do this, but the quickest is clicking 'add a mask' in the layers menu. Here it is, should you be lost:

From here, it's a case of drawing over the overlapping lines. You'll want the head to look like it's just sitting on the face, so 90% of the time that means removing the top of the forehead, the neck and the ears, allowing the layer underneath to blend in. Essentially, you want to make it look like it belongs and not like it's just plonked on top. Like this:

To do so, you'll need to select the brush tool (B) and choose your colours to be black and white. 

Remember: When working with masks
'Black reveals and white conceals'.

In a nut-shell, this means that black will act as an eraser, and should you go too far and erase something important, the white brush will allow you to redraw over the lost bit and reclaim it. Pressing 'X' will allow you to quickly cycle through the colours. 

When you've erased the bits that stand out, you should have something that looks like this:

Looks good, but the colours are way off. Not surprising given The Rock's lovely tanned complexion and the fact that the Queen lives between Balmorral and London (not exactly sun-spots). So we'll need to fix the colour balance. 

Right, the home stretch. The bit that many forget to do, but the one that makes all the difference.

Now, first off you'll need to make that head layer back to a normal layer rather than a mask. To do so you can right-click it and select 'flatten image'. Once you do so, you won't be able to use the brush tool to edit it as before, so make sure you're happy before moving on. 

Next, open up your colour balance bar:

Color balance

I've found that generally speaking, you'll be working in the midtones portion and mostly trying to remove reds or yellows. You'll get used to it over time, but essentially to remove a tan, you need to decrease the amount of reds and yellows. Here's what I used to make The Rock pasty, but you may need to change the figures is you are using different images. 

Photoshop Color correction

And that's that. All that's left is to save your image. Normally the process will take you maybe 20 minutes at the beginning, but after a while, it'll be about 5. There's really not that much to it, beyond finding suitable images and mastering colour balances (something I can't claim to be really strong at). 

So off you go and practice. Have fun and don't forget to leave a comment should you have any questions - I'm more than happy to reply to personal questions as best I can should you get stuck.

Keep going!